"When Tahir Shah decided to follow his dream of buying and restoring a vast crumbling ruin of a palace in the Moroccan city of Casablanca, he soon learned that he and his family had bought a great deal more than they'd bargained for. For one thing, Dar Khalifa, or the Caliph's House, came equipped with three guardians inherited from the previous owner. But that wasn't all. In Morocco, an empty house attracts jinns - invisible, often mischievous, sometimes malign spirits - and Dark Khalifa seemed to have attracted more than its fair share."."In The Caliph's House, Shah tells the story of his family's first year in Casablanca, of their tumultuous time learning Moroccan ways, renovating the house, and exorcizing its jinns. Shah's search for the craftsmen, artisans and array of other people and things needed to put the house in order leads him out into this exotic, mysterious kingdom, to Tangier, Fez, Marrakech, the High Atlas mountains and the Sahara. It also sends him on another journey - in the footsteps of a grandfather he never really knew."--BOOK JACKET.
And then there are the children. We hear that Ariane goes to school, but learn nothing about how that goes for her. We get to see her father make one mistake after another that could traumatize a young child for years — dead cats, huge rats, strange people trooping and falling through the house, poisonous plants in the garden, and of course the goat. These kids are either incredibly tough cookies or wackos, and I'm not sure which disturbs me more.
Most of all, I think I resent learning nothing of what living through this year meant to Shah as a writer (other than providing a new source of royalties, possibly to finance his writing something more interesting). Not until the very last pages do we see him doing any writing, and learn that he's doing it in fountain pen. Well, that at least tells me something about his romanticism, but I wish he'd let that romanticism and a few fully fleshed characters infect the rest of the book.
I struggled through parts of the book. I found the story to be captivating, but when a writer describes a difficult experience well, it can prove to be a difficult reading experience too, and I certainly found that to be the case. Shah's writing style was also sometimes distracting - he has a tendency to run from one topic to another, keeping each story ultrashort, when perhaps it would have been better had he kept to one issue at a time and explored each more fully.
Still, a really worthwhile read for the insights it offers into Moroccan living.
The ensuing tribulations of trying to restore the home, using local architects and craftsmen is reminiscent Mayle's A Year In Provence. It is a deeper book than that, however, if only because Moroccan tribal culture is much more complex and exotic than rural southern French culture. For example, Shah has to hire 25 tribal exorcists to stay at the house, and practice rituals, including the killing of a wild goat, to exorcise the evil Jinns that infest the house.
Shah writes well and the book is a humorous, fun read. Moreover, Shah has posted numerous informative videos on youtube that enrich the reading experience. Excellent travel literature.
I actually began reading this book several years ago & put it down as I didn't have the interest to finish it, but I guess "Things Change"....
In 2004, Tahir Shah, purchased a house in Casablanca, Morocco known as Dar Khalifa. It was once owned by wealthy people but had fallen into disrepair and it had the distinction of being on the border of the slums.....
Upon arriving Shah & his family came upon the "guardians" of Dar Khalifa, who of course were more than reluctant to accept the family & the changes they proposed to make to the the house & property, lest they displease Qandisha, the resident Jinn (who was eventually "exorcised").
Not one to be discouraged, Shah went ahead with the onerous project, meeting & dealing w/ more than one "difficult" party.... In the process he did meet a few friends of his grandfather's and made many new friends as well......
It amazed me, that a man of well being, who himself was from Afghanistan, allowed himself to be so cowed by the people who worked for him!
But it was an interesting book, well written and rather detailed towards the end describing the interior construction of the house.
A friend, Hillel Natanson adds, "It's an entertaining story that unmasks at least some of the mystery of Moroccan culture. His self-deprecating portrait lightens up a story that in other hands might have been a bit heavy and tedious. I second the recommendation.